Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Series Scan: Erased

I am a SLOW binge-watcher (and reader). Two hours is about my limit, after which I need processing time. I also enjoy watching online reviewers, and reactions to things that I’ve previously watched, so why not take the time during a slow binge to chronicle my own reactions and speculations?

I’ll be coming at this one a little differently than my prior Scans. I watched the anime “Erased” (it’s only 12 eps) with my wife over the span of 2-3 weeks in July. I didn’t jot down any reactions as I was watching it, or even record anything between viewings, though I more or less remember my feelings. So I’ll mention those in passing as we run episode by episode, along with a larger look at the temporal implications. My reason?

In brief: “Erased” is the best time travel anime that botches the time travel. In part due to “Fridge Logic” problems. (That’s when something doesn’t bother you during the show, but half an hour later you go “wait, what??”) Don’t get me wrong, the anime is great, and aspects are VERY clever, but I’m sorry, a big piece doesn’t hold up. I’ll get to that.

Credit my wife for this viewing, by the way. I was first introduced to “Erased” shortly after it came out in 2016, when the first Episode was played by the Anime Club at my school. This anime holds the bizarre distinction of being played there twice (that wasn’t usually a thing) because attendance was down on a later day and most of those there hadn’t seen the first ep yet (we’re talking 12 people on average, that day maybe there was 3?).

I looked it up at the time, heard that the time travel wasn’t really a central part, heard that some had issues with the end, and rarely have time to keep up with this stuff. Flash forward a full year, to May 2017, and my wife seeing an episode at Anime North. She’s more into mystery than me, so that aspect appealed to her, and she suggested we watch together. This seemed like a great idea. Quality time!

So, let’s get to it. SPOILERS, obviously, and bear in mind that this is a review in retrospect, largely with an eye to the time travel.

01 Flashing Before My Eyes

Thoughts and Theories:
 They set up that Satoru experiences “Revival”, a “mind leap” form of time travel where he’s supposed to prevent an issue. Also, Airi as his coworker, the unresolved issue in his past, his mother, and in the end, the return to 1988. It’s extremely well done, packing all the key elements in, yet it doesn’t feel rushed. My main issue with it was, it felt like setting up the “future” (present), only to allow the rest of the story to play out in the “present” (past). I’ve read “Outlander”. It’s not really my thing.

02 Palm of the Hand

Thoughts and Theories:
 We focus in on Kayo, the first victim, and there’s a nice bookending of her being first and Satoru’s mother being last, both with ties to Satoru. The interplay of a 29-year-old mind and 10-year-old body is interesting. The hint of Airi (via the quote) is important, echoing her presence in the OP, hinting that we will get out of the “past”. (I actually knew we would here, based on what my wife had already seen, but still.) Again, there is a lot to admire about the show. Can’t shake the feeling that the time travel is merely a way to set the plot up though... I have been burned before.

03 Birthmark

Thoughts and Theories:
 The Christmas Tree episode. I wonder about the bit with the foxes, how he “saw them alone” in the first timeline - why was he trekking out there? We also get Kayo’s mother (who seems heartless but not serial killer evil), Yashiro-sensei (who spills plot info because I guess someone had to) and “Yuuki” (sympathetic lip service to the one who will be blamed). Also, the girl framing Kayo for theft and Kenya feeling like he’s somehow a piece of this (he’s in the OP too) but they’re catalysts, not killers. So that’s the mystery angle. Sharing the same birthday is nice in a dual friendship/plot point way.

04 Accomplishment

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s Satoru time delaying the Kayo problem. Again, nice hint that things aren’t so easy with the trip to the Science Center being an echo of what happened anyway... though for a time travel viewer that’s NOT a hint, it’s a HUGE red flag waving in the air with streamers. You know it’s not going to be enough to avoid the day, you have to avoid the cause, so with Satoru’s fixation on X-Day, it’s waiting for the other shoe. Which only drops at the very end, after their “happy memories”. Telegraphed emotional manipulation. (The scene with Kayo’s mother was well done, I grant, not telegraphed.)

05 Getaway

Thoughts and Theories:
 This is the first ep my wife saw. (She appreciated it with the added context now.) Kayo’s toast, and we go back to the “present”. Which, yeah, kind of had to return to it that way, even though it messes with the definition of “Revival” as initially presented. This is the point that a “time travel” watcher (or me, anyway) may start to get frustrated. On the one hand, staying in the past, time travel is used as a portal only. On the other hand, well, digression time.

 Time travel is a problem. If you give a character control over time, they’re ridiculously overpowered. The only solutions are to put limitations on their use of such power (“Back to the Future”’s 1.21 gigawatts) or, as is done here, don’t have them be the one in control (“Quantum Leap” does that well). We KNOW Satoru’s going back again, Kayo’s too sympathetic a character. The only question is how. Does he figure out what’s behind “Revival”? Does he find a way of “reviving” into someone else, like Kenya? I read a theory from someone watching at this point that maybe the serial killer ALSO has a “revival”, that would be fascinating. (It would also explain the ‘nearly-too-perfect’ framing of Satoru for his mom’s murder.)
 But no. This ep doesn’t feel like a setup to any of that.
 It’s a by-the-numbers, “you changed the past a little bit, not enough, please play again”. Because the focus is placed, not on the circumstances, but on the mystery and the killer (who we see with Pizza Manager, but not his face). Not that there’s anything wrong with that decision, just, it feels frustrating, temporally. Thank goodness for Airi, who breathes life and backstory into what could otherwise feel pedestrian. Satoru making poor choices (lying to Pizza Manager) also feels like a theme, I like how the girls in his life question whether he’s an idiot.

06 Grim Reaper

Thoughts and Theories:
 It’s worth a moment to grant the series a pat on the back for not being predictable. Mom dies, he flashes back. Girls still die, he flashes forwards. Airi dies, he... oh. OH. Okay then. (And I loved the bit where it’s not Airi in her hospital bed later, nice.) So, we’re tracking down the killer in the present, and we get more about Satoru’s manga idea. The ending raises questions, namely whether the obviously arrogant killer watching Satoru is directly connected to the police, the time travel, or something more. Yeah, that never exactly gets answered.

06.5 1-6 Digest
 It had been almost a week since we’d watched the first six eps (and even those were over a couple days), so we watched this. It’s a decent recap.

07 Out of Control

Thoughts and Theories:
 Satoru’s back in 1988 because... willpower? It might have been better for Airi to fall in the river or something, to provide a better motivation. He also says it will be his “final” revival, and I believe it, because now the time travel aspect feels completely at the mercy of the plot. Know what might have been fascinating? Two 29-year olds in his head at once. “You’re going to screw up, let me take the lead”, and there’s finite amount of his own brain he can take at once. Nope. The overlap is never a thing. Time travel is a vehicle, not a plot point.
 Nothing makes that more definitive to me than the continued efforts to hide the identity of the killer (after teasing at the end of 06 that we’d ID him, and start a new arc of catching him), except there’s a SLIM list of suspects. There’s Kayo’s Dad Figure, who we’ve only seen in the background of one shot. There’s “Yuuki”’s father, also seen in passing here. And there’s Yashiro-sensei, who seems to have ALL the info, and has been played up as a confidant - more emotional manipulation for later? Money’s on the latter, in no small part due to him being seen with Kenya before (also in the thick of it now), and the lack of screen time on anyone else.
 The killer busting into the bus at the end, and us STILL not knowing who it is, implies that they’re hanging onto that mystery thread for dear life. Kayo will escape, still not knowing, or be otherwise unable to speak. Which of those, is the question.

08 Spiral

Thoughts and Theories:
 You do have to hand it to the series for not playing to expectations (Kayo didn’t escape, in fact she didn’t get noticed). In retrospect, this is kind of a filler episode, plot wise. Which is, again, symptomatic of time travel not being a factor beyond what we’ve already seen. Otherwise surely by NOW Kenya would have revealed he’s been trying to fix this for years, only to find he’s somehow unable, hence the decision to recruit Satoru in the past leading to this entire story in his future. Or Satoru would have tried “reviving” back a day to try tailing the mystery man.
 The show instead zones in on it’s emotional core, which I again grant is excellent, and I haven’t mentioned the child abuse angle (because that’s not the focus of this post), but it IS done well. Also, there’s the “we’ve walked into the killer’s den” angle, which is motivating. I’m not saying it’s a bad anime (and I haven’t read the manga, though I know it’s a bit different in the time travel too).

09 Closure

Thoughts and Theories:
 Save all the girls! (And the guy who resembles a girl!) We close off Kayo’s storyline, with an interesting appearance by Kayo’s grandmother (she exists!), which is meant to put a sympathetic light on everything and/or show that abuse is a cycle. (I felt like that would speak to the killer’s motivations. In retrospect, not sure.) Moving on, there’s attempts to deflect from Yashiro (and the candy angle was nicely thought out), except who else is there to be the killer. We also set up someone outside Satoru’s sights (as history’s changed), I like that it’s the girl from 03, brilliant callback/setup.

10 Joy

Thoughts and Theories:
 The revelation was decent. I’m not sure I buy the WHOLE setup that Yashiro did, it feels a bit too much like checkmarking boxes marked ‘thread ties here’. (Like, sensei not only steals a car that looks like his, he also fiddled with the seat belt earlier?) When Satoru talks about “knowing Yashiro’s future” at the end, I felt certain that it would be the ticket that leads to Satoru being saved. With Yashiro having to know. Then somehow they catch Yashiro next ep, and last part is seeing what’s better or worse in the future. That’s not what happens.

11 Future

Thoughts and Theories:
 See what they did there? They didn’t call this episode “present”. They called it “future”. Because what happens with the plot here is simultaneously brilliant, and completely self-defeating: Satoru’s in a coma for the whole intervening time (which at one point is what I suspected of Kayo to end ep 07). Returning us to future/present.

 The reason it’s brilliant partly goes to the original title, “Boku Dake ga Inai Machi”, or “The Town Where Only I Am Missing” (sure, that translates to “Erased”). It can be read as Kayo missing up to when she’s saved, but now we see it’s Satoru missing. It allows ten year old Satoru to be in the head of 29 year old Satoru, a clever reversal. It parallels the first episode of waking up in hospital after saving an act of saving lives. And it pulls us back into the “future” without the head scratching of what he’d have been doing with that major shift to his past.

 It also completely wipes out all his previous “Revival” experiences. That kid in Ep 1? Guess he got hit by the truck. Along with whatever other “Revival”s Satoru affected before the story began. That’s why it’s self-defeating.

 It’s also what I meant by “botching” the time travel.

 I can’t help but compare this show to the video game “Life is Strange”, because apparently there’s something about blue butterflies that enables time travel? I’ll try not to massively spoil said game, but suffice to say, there’s a path there which renders all of your previous choices completely moot. “Erased” doesn’t QUITE get there, but it makes all but the last of Satoru’s trips completely moot. The implication being that the town goes along just fine without him.

 Except it DIDN’T get along just fine without him, that’s why he got “Revival” powers. Wasn’t that the point? A protagonist who can change peoples' lives?

 There’s only two possibilities I can see here. Either “Revival” was granted to Satoru because of the childhood trauma of losing Kayo, and all of his previous “Revival”s were somehow also linked to his actions. Meaning the bad events wouldn’t even happen in a timeline without him. Meaning the guy is a horrible jinx, implying people are better off without him! Or possibly that Yashiro’s influence was so far reaching as to affect truck drivers around Satoru. (Which wouldn’t have been a bad direction, actually.)

 The other possibility is that “Revival” is some free-floating god-given gift. Satoru was being tested, and... well, actually, he botched that last test, he had to get his Mom to figure it out... but, close enough, so this was his exam? Except this scenario implies that (presumably) others are similarly tested, meaning our entire timeline could be rewritten out from under us, and so the fact that Satoru was in a coma could later be changed by someone else. Weakening the impact.

 Neither option feels palatable. Granted, there’s a third possibility, but I’ll save it for the end. (Do you see it?)

 Back to the anime. This episode itself was good, if you completely ignore that time travel aspect of the whole storyline. (Including how the hell did Satoru NOT drown, another plot thread with no answer, okay, sorry, sorry.) It was good to see Satoru’s friends again (or at least the two most connected to him), and Kayo, and I agree with what another reviewer said, he at least seems happy with his life here, versus the original timeline.
 Also, the OP shift was damn clever, completely removing him, and yet everything continues on as it did before. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. As to the last scene, confessing to having your memories when you’re in seemingly the weaker position isn’t in character (not after all his effort to walk, etc). So there’s an ace. Somewhere. What’s the ace?

12 Treasure

Thoughts and Theories:
 In the end, it was a story of point and counterpoint between Satoru and Yashiro. A chess match between “Revival” and the one who can see “Threads”. And the final nail in the coffin of the time travel element is the following: Satoru had no way of knowing that Yashiro wouldn’t take him to the basement and drop crates on him. Why did he plan for the roof?

 I guess we could say they’re just that connected. I guess we could say there were backup plans, and enough was heard on Satoru’s cell phone for the others to go with this plan. (Which apparently also required a faulty gate latch.) And I've heard the manga's different. But it sure feels like “I can see your future” happens WITHOUT any revival in this scene. Implying that maybe, time travel wasn’t in the original draft, the initial pitch was ‘what if someone knew how a serial killer would strike’ not ‘time travel rewrite’? That came later.

 Again, suffering from “Fridge Logic” doesn’t make this bad. The part where Yashiro reaches out to Satoru’s wheelchair is powerful. They really ARE entwined, to the point of not looking at the outside world, and it’s Satoru reaching out to those friends (in the PRIOR episode, offscreen, bit of a cheat) that snaps them out of their stalemate. And then we’re fast forwarding again, to where Satoru has the job he wants in the present, and is revisiting people from the past with happiness too.

 I admit, I was a little worried that we wouldn’t get Airi again. I thought, they couldn’t do that, could they? She was so pivotal. But no, of course, they did in the closing shot, with the blue butterfly, and here’s where I bring up that third possibility. The path seemingly not taken, the “Revival” aspect that was a mere plot vehicle, which could suddenly have been blown into full colour.

 If that butterfly wasn’t Satoru’s. It was Airi’s.

 AIRI is now the one who has been experiencing “Revival”. With Satoru out of the picture, SHE’S the one who saved the boy from the truck in Episode One, who saved everyone that Satoru had once saved, possibly even saved her parents’ marriage somehow, when she was young. She’s been helping people in his place, helping preserve the timeline without him. That’s why she feels a connection to him when they meet in the end.

 Tell me you don’t get chills.

 Granted, there is nothing to DENY that this isn’t, in fact, the reality of what was occurring at the end. We fade to black. But I feel like, the way this anime is SO meticulous in setting things up, and ultimately tying off all it’s loose ends (except the damn time travel), that they wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to allude to it if it were, in fact, the case. (I DO feel like, if there’s a sequel, it should totally be Airi’s, not their kid son or something.)

 That’s why I had to call “Erased” the best time travel anime that botches the time travel.

 Incidentally, I have heard that the manga actually kills Kayo more than once, resulting in more “revivals” as Satoru tries to figure it out. (And that there were more “revivals” with the truck driver from ep 1, and the final showdown is on a bridge.) On the one hand, getting out of a “trapped loop” helps empathize more with Satoru, but I feel this only makes the time travel aspect worse. It shows time is even harder to change, meaning losing all Satoru’s changes to the coma would be MORE acutely felt within his “town”, not less. But I haven’t read it.

 Anyway, that’s it for this “Series Scan”! If you preferred seeing the reactions of someone as the tale unfolded (because I can’t pretend that my opinions weren’t coloured by knowing the end), check out Setsuken on “Anime Evo” at this link here. There are also other opinions like “Erased is the Perfect Melding of Time Travel and Murder”, or “Nefarious Reviews” which like me sees some flaws. “Mother’s Basement” also did this excellent analysis of the Erased OP visuals. As of this point, the anime’s still streaming on Crunchyroll.

 Thanks for reading! A previous “Series Scan” of mine looked at Steins;Gate, which does time travel better, and is coming out with a sequel soon (if you want more). Consider dropping me a comment if you agree, disagree, or have other thoughts.

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